PLAY SMART: Our Guide to Safe and Enjoyable Gaming

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There are so many reasons why we find gaming enjoyable. For adults, it provides escapism allowing the player to re-connect with their inner child and switch off from the stresses experienced in everyday life. Gaming allows us to use our inner creativity and imagination by putting ourselves in the shoes of a much-loved character or becoming part of a fantasy world.

Gaming enables us to connect and play against our friends, family and indeed make new friends within the gaming community. This has a positive impact on our ability to communicate with others and develop friendships

It’s important as we get older to have a good work-life balance and gaming fits the bill pretty well as it allows us to exercise our brains and have fun. Games can for the most part, be picked up and put down which makes it a convenient pass time to fit around other time commitments and it gives us something to look forward to.

Some games encourage physical exercise which is good for our health, fitness and well-being. Some studies have also shown that certain video games can improve hand–eye coordination, problem-solving skills, and the mind’s ability to process information.

Gaming is a fun, developmental and sociable way to spend our leisure time, but there are a few danger zones you should be aware of in order to keep yourself safe. Here we shall take a look at some of those risks and ways in which you can protect yourself.

Cyber bullying has countless forms and sadly everyone may experience this in one way or another. “Whispering” is known as bullies reaching out to players directly by spamming chat channels with hurtful and harmful messages. It is possible in most games to block chat messages from other players. The bully’s words or actions may also be in breach of the games terms of service. We suggest taking screen shots of any bullying experienced and reporting it to the game administrators or higher authorities (depending on the seriousness of the case).

Excessive screen time they say can cause strained, dry eyes, blurred vision and headaches. You should aim to take a 10-minute break from Display Screen Equipment (DSE) at least once every hour. You also need to consider your posture when using screens so that you do not suffer from neck, shoulder and back pain. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) can provide you with more information about the correct set up and use of DSE here.

Exposure to inappropriate content may include violence, bad language and scenes of an adult nature. Video games have classifications in a similar way to films. The Pan European Game Information (PEGI for short), is a ratings system established to help consumers make informed decisions when buying video games or apps through the use of age recommendations and content descriptions. So what do the labels look like and what do they mean?

In game purchases or hidden fees are quite common. Some games will be offered to you as free but in order to access all the features you might be asked for payments. Examples include, member subscriptions, expanded functionality, upgraded weapons, bolt-ons or special abilities and virtual currency. Sometimes when you subscribe or create an account you are asked in advance to supply your credit card information. This card is then automatically charged whenever you want to benefit from these features. To protect yourself we advise you never give out your payment details unless you fully understand the implications and trust the seller. Make sure you regularly check your bank account and report any suspicious transactions you do not recognise.

Malware and viruses are programs that can attack PC’s, tablets, phones and other digital devices. These computer programmes are designed to cause harm by gaining access to your device, stealing or changing your personal information or slowing/shutting your system down. The origination of malware and viruses often takes place via a downloaded file, file sharing or by clicking a link or opening an email attachment. You should regularly scan your computer for viruses and other malware like trojan horses, rootkits, spyware and worms. There are a number of software protection packages you can download for free or purchase. Whichever you choose make sure it is from a trusted source and you run it regularly.

Online predators use video games to lure and groom victims. Activity might consist of direct chat messages, communication via webcams or even arranging to meet face-to-face. Relationships can be established during game play where the victim is lured into thinking the predator is their friend. Extreme caution should be used in prohibiting the exchange of personal information and if you have any concerns for your safety or well-being confide in someone or the authorities (depending on the seriousness of the case).

Privacy problems may exist where gamers create usernames that include their real names, making them easily identifiable. Some usernames also make it possible for others to be able to identify your geographical location or. In addition, online chat allows others to single you out and send personal messages which may uncover personal information about you. If they are able to gather enough personal information about you it’s then possible for them to access other information from sources such as online searches and social media. We suggest you never use or give out personal information about yourself and vary your usernames and passwords across multiple platforms.

If you are using a console or PC to game play please also be mindful when your device reaches it’s end of life to wipe all personal information from your device before disposing of it.

Webcams and microphones can be controlled remotely by hackers and you should minimise this threat by using cyber security software. Check your default settings to make sure these are set to off and you can also purchase camera covers or protect yourself or by using other methods of shielding your camera.